The Gallery of Weird Facts
Strange, unusual, and esoteric information
Ears of corn almost always have an even number of rows. When they don't, it's often been considered weird enough to make news. A story is told of one slave owner who cynically promised his slaves their freedom if they could find an odd-rowed ear of corn, figuring they would never find such a thing. But one slave went into the corn-field, carefully opened the husk on an ear of young corn, cut out a row of kernels, then closed up the husk again. As the corn grew, the vacant row closed up, so that when the corn was finally ready to be picked, he was able to present the slave owner with an odd-rowed ear of corn and thereby claim his freedom.
After World War II, Dr. Hugh Cott of Cambridge University conducted a series of egg-tasting experiments to determine the palatability of eggs from various species of birds. He assembled a panel of three egg tasters, who were served the eggs scrambled and then rated them on a 10-point scale. Over a six-year period (1946-1951) they tasted eggs from 212 bird species. They rated domestic hen eggs as tastiest (8.8 out of 10). The coot, moorhen, and lesser black-backed gull came in second place (8.3 out of 10). Penguin eggs were "particularly fine and delicate in flavor." Domestic duck eggs were of only "intermediate palatability." Coming in at the bottom were the eggs of the great tit ("salty, fishy, and bitter"), wren ("sour, oily"), and the oyster-catcher ("strong onion-like flavor"). The eggs of the bar-headed goose made the tasters gag.
When corpses are placed in tightly sealed coffins, they often bloat, expand, and sometimes burst with explosive force, due to the accumulation of methane gas produced by anaerobic bacteria. On occasion, when these sealed coffins are located in aboveground mausoleums, these explosions have been powerful enough to blow the lid off of caskets and the marble door panels off crypts. Funeral industry workers refer to this as "exploding casket syndrome." To prevent such explosions, coffin manufacturers began adding "burpers" to the caskets that allow the methane gas to harmlessly "burp out."
In feather pillows, on occasion some of the feathers in the pillow will intertwine together to form a hardened, disc-like mass. In the culture of Appalachia, these feather lumps are known as "death crowns." It's believed that if a death crown is found in the pillow of someone who is sick, it's a sure sign that they will die within three days. However, if a death crown is found in the pillow of a recently deceased person, that's said to be a sign that the person has gone to Heaven. Many people collect death crowns. The Museum of Appalachia in Tennessee has the largest collection of them in the world.
Consumption of the flesh of Sarpa salpa, a type of sea bream also known as the "dreamfish," can cause intense hallucinations. The hallucinations can be terrifying and often involve visions of aggressive and screaming animals, such as giant spiders or squealing birds. However, not all experiences are unpleasant. In 1960, National Geographic photographer Joe Roberts purposefully ate some broiled dreamfish and experienced hallucinations of "futuristic vehicles, images of space exploration, and monuments marking humanity's first trips into space." During the Roman Empire, Sarpa salpa was occasionally eaten for recreational purposes. The effects of dreamfish consumption can last for up to three days.
"Head canting" is the term used by researchers to describe how some people, when their picture is taken, tilt their head to the side. It's speculated to be a submissive gesture, "a form of ingratiation or appeasement achieved by reducing one's overall height." Among actors, James Dean was particularly famous for head canting. Director Elia Kazan said that when Dean tilted his head it seemed to say, "Pity me, I'm too sensitive for the world."
Westerners who traveled to Korea during the nineteenth century often remarked on what seemed to them to be the strange method of shoveling dirt practiced in that country. It involved crews of three to nine men operating a single shovel. One man would guide the shovel while the others would use ropes to pull it. What particularly intrigued the westerners was that this method didn't seem to shovel dirt any faster than a one-man shovel would. However, this may have been a misperception. The U.S. Army reportedly later tested the Korean and American methods of shoveling against each other, and found that the Korean method was indeed faster and more efficient.
In the days before X-rays and modern forensics, a popular (and virtually undetectable) technique for murder was to drive a nail into a person's head. The victim's hair would hide the wound, concealing any obvious sign of injury or foul play. So people would assume death had occurred from natural causes. The "method of the nail" is such an ancient technique of murder that it's even mentioned in the Bible, Book of Judges 4:21, "Then Jael, Heber's wife, took a nail of the tent, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples."
The first American edition of Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick had a hyphen in the title, and no one knows why. Inside the book Melville consistently spelled the whale's name as Moby Dick, without a hyphen. Nor did he use a hyphen when referring to the book in his personal correspondence. One theory is that the hyphen was a mistake. The title was changed at the last minute from The Whale to Moby-Dick, and the title change was communicated to the printer by Melville's brother, Allan. So maybe Allan misspelled the title, and it was never Herman's intention to hyphenate it. Many editions of the book drop the hyphen. Nevertheless, because the first edition included the hyphen, literary scholars consider that to be the officially correct spelling.
During the Middle Ages, monks who had taken vows of silence developed simple forms of sign language to communicate with each other. For instance, to indicate that he wanted to eat, a monk would repeatedly move three fingers towards his mouth. To indicate that he was fasting, he would press together his lips with his thumb and forefinger. These monastic sign languages predated the development of modern sign language by centuries.
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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2016 by the author of the post, which is usually either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.